When couples with children begin the very difficult process of divorce, one of the most important issues to decide upon is the parenting schedule. I'm often asked, "What is the best parenting plan?" But there is no right answer, because each situation is different and the plan has to work for each individual family. First the couple must decide if one parent is going to have primary physical custody or if they will share their time. Some couples want to have exactly 50/50 and for others that is not an issue. What is most important, is that both parents agree and they are committed to the schedule which will serve the best interests of their children.
The needs of both the children and the parents must be taken into account. The age of the children is very important. For young children, it is important to have contact with each parent more frequently. Older children often like to settle into a home and stay there for several days or possibly a week before they transition to the other home. The location of the school, the children's friends and their activities needs to be taken into account. Ideally, after parents separate they live close enough to one another so the transition is easy. This can be particularly helpful if a child leaves something at one house that they need at the other. Parents have reported that they have brought boots over to the ex's house at 7:30 in the morning. Close proximity allows for this to happen. Another issue that must be taken into account is the work schedules the parents maintain, so they can fulfill their childcare commitments. If one parent travels frequently, allowances need to be made to care for the children.
The degree of flexibility in the schedule usually depends on the relationship of the co-parents. If there is more acrimony, it is usually easier to keep more strictly to the schedule to avoid conflict. But, if parents can easily swap days and/or cover for one another, it can prove very helpful. Generally, some flexibility is a plus, as both parents inevitably will need to change the schedule some time.
So, let's look at typical parenting plans: Most traditionally, one parent has the kids primarily and the other has every/other weekend and one night during the week for dinner, and sometimes a sleepover. Then, there are variations on that, with the parent who has less time seeing the kids 2 nights during the week for dinner and/or sleepover. Then, there's 50/50 parenting: That generally is 3.5 days and 3.5 days, with a swing day on Wednesday or a weekend day. And also there's a 2 days, 5 days schedule which gives each parent equal time in a two week period. The way that works is that one parent has every Monday and Tuesday, the other has every Wednesday and Thursday and they alternate Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is a very common schedule as it affords the kids a period of time to be with each parent, gives each parent a weekend with their kids every other week and a weekend alone the other week. It lets the parents know when they are free and when they are "on" during the week, allowing for longer work hours, classes, social time etc. Sometimes during the five day period, the "other" parent arranges to have dinner with the children. Sometimes, this doesn't happen. The most important thing to stress is that there is no "right" schedule. Whatever a couple chooses needs to work for them. And sometimes, couples need to try out schedules and see how they work. They can mutually change a schedule to better suit the needs of the family.
Living in two homes can be hard for some children who find transitions difficult, and some parents may need to amend their schedules to fit their children's needs. And schedules sometimes change as children grow older because their needs are different. Change is inevitable. Activities change, parent's jobs may change, schools may change, and this may necessitate a schedule change. And that's ok! Mostly, children are resilient and do very well when they are loved and well cared for. If the parents present their plan in a positive way and don't put the children in the middle, it will usually be very successful.
Barbara Rothberg, DSW, LCSW is a Co-Parenting Child Specialist & Mediator - www.barbararothberg.com. For more than 30 years, Barbara has specialized in helping clients resolve conflicts and navigate transitions in their lives. As a Divorce Coach and Child Specialist, she helps create customized solutions in a respectful manner, emphasizing the best interests of the child. She counsels parents on different aspects of parenting plans, helping them develop the best one for their situation and needs. As a coach, she supports the parents with the emotional issues of the divorce.